The last two portions of this series dealt with “rights” . . . defining them and working through how I believe they function. Part 4 closed with the question of whether or not a government, which is charged with the responsibility of protecting us from violations of our rights, may legitimately protect us from ourselves.
I believe the answer is “no,” for two reasons. First and most simply, I do not believe it is possible for me to violate my own rights. They are mine and I may exercise them (or not) however I choose. Second, I do not believe any government has the capacity of properly judging what is, or is not, a “good decision.” Certainly, I have made what I consider to be bad decisions in my life . . . but they are decisions I myself have judged to be bad ones. I do not believe any other person or organization has the right to make that determination but me.
This might seem like a shocking assertion to make. How can I possibly be asserting that each of us is, in ourselves, the best judge of what makes a good or bad decision?
Well, in today’s world, the honest answer is that we can’t, because we have – all of us – stunted our decision-making capacity.
This brings us to the flip side of rights: responsibilities. In this day and age, everybody wants to spend the entire conversation talking about their “rights” . . . nobody wants to talk about their responsibilities.
We made certain to begin our discussion of “rights” by defining what it was we were talking about, so let’s do the same with “responsibilities.” We defined rights as a method by which we make the choices available to us. I believe responsibilities are another such tool. If rights are the tools we use to maintain our “selves” against the encroachments of others, then responsibilities are the tools we use to avoid encroachments of our own.
Thus, my right to free speech carries the responsibility of allowing others to speak freely as well, even when I disagree with what they say. My right to freedom of religion carries with it the responsibility to respect the same right of others to believe as they choose – even if it conflicts with my own beliefs. My right to freedom of association carries with it the responsibility of allowing others to associate freely – of not being offended if they shun me.
Perhaps most importantly, my right to act as I choose carries with it responsibility for the consequences that stem from those actions.
That, ultimately, is why the government has no business protecting me from myself. I have made my choice, and even if it’s a bad one it is still my choice. Should that choice do harm to another, then it is the government’s legitimate role to step in and protect them from the consequences of my bad choices. But as long as those consequences affect only myself, I have no claim on the assistance of any other, unless they should freely choose to give it either voluntarily or in return for just compensation.
But instead of fostering a culture of responsibility, we have built a culture of dependency. Instead of a society that respects each of us as individuals, we have built a society that only thinks in terms of groups: whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, liberals, conservatives, and so on, and so on, and so on. It’s identity politics meets class warfare meets groupthink. As long as we categorize ourselves as part of a “group,” then we don’t have to face the responsibility for our choices as individuals . . . If I have a load of debt, it’s not because I’ve chosen how and where to spend my money . . . it’s because we’re in a recession that happens to be hitting my country . . . my region . . . my state . . . my city . . . my neighborhood . . . my “group.”
Of course, there are always going to be factors beyond our control. I’m not one of those that believes God struck Haiti, or New Orleans, because of some “deal with the devil.” Those who were caught in those tragic disasters are not to blame.
But they are still responsible for the choices they make in reaction to the tragedy that struck them. We are all responsible for the choices we make, even if we make those choices in response to an event over which we have no control. When I fell in love for the first time and she rejected me, I had no control over her response, but I was responsible for the way I let it affect my relationships for the next several years.
But we don’t want this responsibility . . . we would rather have someone to blame. And so we wrap our “little” violations of rights inside of one another to make them seem more palatable. We “must” take a little bit of freedom here because we have made absolutely certain that exercising that by exercising that freedom we will affect one another in ways that should never have existed.
The so-called “war on drugs” is a perfect example: We “must” control access to these substances because they are “tearing apart the fabric of our society” . . . but the only reason they are tearing apart the fabric of society . . . the only reason their presence is accompanied by crime and social upheaval . . . is because they are illegal in the first place. We have only to look at the example of prohibition to prove this. When alcohol was illegal, people found a way to indulge themselves anyway . . . but in doing so they perpetrated a crime wave like this country had never seen before. But rather than blaming the government that felt it must control people, we blamed only the immediate perpetrators. And we have done the same with the war on drugs . . . we blame the gangs, the meth labs, the crack houses . . . rather than the government that makes them all necessary in order for people to make the choices they end up making anyway.
Why? Because we can’t have people taking responsibility for their own choices . . . then they’d be out of our control!
Which is, ultimately, what the governmentÂ -Â any governmentÂ -Â is, by definition, all about.
Does that mean I advocate unsafe, unhealthy behaviors as a way of life? Actually, no. In my next segment, I’ll explain why.